Pious Maha Shivaratri from Mauritius

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Origin of the the Maha Shivaratri Festival.

According to the sacred texts, the ‘devas’ (minor gods) and the demons agreed to join forces and churn the oceans for the elixir of immortality (‘Amnita’). Using mountain Mandara as a churning stick and the enormous serpent Vasuki as a rope, they set about their task in earnest. But something went wrong. From out of the swirling waters, there erupted a lethal poison which burnt down to ashes everything in its way and was soon threatening to destroy the entire Universe. The ‘devas’ sought out Shiva and beseeched him to come to the rescue. Shiva swallowed the deadly poison, thus saving the Universe from total destruction. But in the process the poison caused his throat to turn blue. This is how he came to be known as ‘Nilkanth’ — the blue-throated god. The ‘devas’ poured water on his neck hoping to cool it and soothe his pain. Since then devotees of Shiva have continued to pour water on the ‘Shiva Liiiga’. Every year, twelve nights are dedicated to the Great Lord, Maha Shivaratni being one of them.

Maha Shivaratri and it’s beauty.

The Maha Shivaratri festival is among the most popular festivals in Mauritius and provides an occasion for mass participation where all religions come together, through the annual pilgrimage to the lake of Grand Bassin also called as ‘Ganga Talao’. Maha Shivaratri is being observed in the month of February— March ( Phaguna ) in honour of Shiva, one of the most celebrated Gods of the Hindu pantheon.

Ganga Talao ( The River Ganges recreated in Mauritius )

Among his manifold attributes, Shiva is also known as ‘Gangadhar’, the upholder of the Ganges. Ganga river or Mother Ganga, is the sacred river and is believed to be of divine origin. The world over the Ganges is the embodiment of purity and divinity and her water, venerated and stored in pots and bottles in many homes , is highly valued for its use in sacrifices and ceremonies. Since the Hindus who came to Mauritius could not go to the Ganges, they brought the Ganges to Mauritius.
Grand Bassin is a lake situated in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne, deep in the heart of Mauritius. It is about 1800 feet above sea level and is surrounded by natural scenery of breathtaking beauty. In 1897 Shri jhummon Gin Gosagne, a ‘pujari’ (priest) of Terre Rouge saw in a dream the water of the lake of Grand Bassin springing from the ‘Jahnvi’, thus forming part of Ganga. The news of the dream spread rapidly and created quite a stir in the Hindu community. The following year, pilgrims trekked to Grand Bassin to collect its water to offer to Lord Shiva on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri. The lake was then known as the ‘Pan Talao’, the lake of the water fairies, because people believed that fairies came to bathe in it every night. In 1972 sacred water from the Ganges was poured into the lake which from then on came to be called the ‘Ganga Talao’, the lake of the Ganges.

The Festival itself is preceded by weeks of preparation and discipline, during at least one week of which no meat and alcohol are consumed. Three days before the festival proper, devotees start on a pilgrimage to the ‘Ganga Talao’. Men, women, children of all religions, all dressed in white, in their thousands, from every nook and corner of the island, travel to the lake on foot, in a slow and never-ending procession. On their way, a journey of twenty or thirty miles, they carry on their shoulders, sometimes by twos or fours, structures made of bamboo and decorated with paper streamers and small multi-coloured tinkling bells. Some of these ‘kanwars’ as they are known, are minor artistic masterpieces built mostly like domed temples, rippling with colours and flashing with the reflected lights of countless mirrors.

The pilgrims gladly carry these ‘kanwars’ or ‘yokes’ on their necks and shoulders symbolising their loving surrender and obedience to the Divine will. When they reach the Ganga Talao, and after a short rest, they offer prayers to Lord Shiva and to their favourite deities at the various shrines around the lake. It is estimated that about 250,000 people go on pilgrimage to Grand Bassin every year. To the visitor who comes by car or coach, the experience may be rather unnerving, what with the slow-moving traffic, the jams, and the thousands of men and women, crowding the stone steps which reach like roots into the lake. But then the whole scene is an unforgettable sight. The lake itself is like an emerald jewel in a breathtakingly serene woodland setting, vaulted by the sky, flanked on one side by a ‘Shiva Linga’ in the form of a temple-shaped hillock. One hundred and eight steps, like beads in a ‘japa mala’ (rosary), climb to the top of the hill which is crowned with a life-size marble statue of Hanuman, the monkey-god and peerless devotee of Lord Rama.

When one takes in the whole scene — mysticized by the veils of mist that rise and subside, and by the clouds that come and go, when one looks at the rapt faces of the thousands of men, women and children who reach out to the Divine, one cannot help feeling that here on the banks of the sacred Ganga Talao, one is vouchsafed a vision of transcendence and liberation. On such occasions and on the occasion of other Hindu, Christian and Muslim festivals, one experiences in Mauritius the sensation of crossing over the threshold of the sacred. We have reached the ‘tirtha’, the ford, the door through which the divine reaches down to the human, and the human reaches up to the Divine. For some transcendental moments, we have the impression that we are in Mauritius, but outside the world, outside time. Similarly, like many such hallowed places, Ganga Talao becomes a meeting-place of earth, heaven and the beyond. After prayers, it is time for the pilgrims to start on their long journey back carrying their ‘lotas’ (small pots) of brass or bottles filled with the sacred water from the lake. The sacred water is brought to the temple and poured on the ‘Shiva Linga’.

May Lord Shiva shower his benign blessings on you and your family. May happiness and peace surround you with his eternal love and strength. Pious Maha Shivaratri Mauritius..
Some photographs taken during 21th to 26th February 2014 pilgrimage .

Note: I own none of these pictures posted below.

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